Ukrainian civilians flee re-taken Kherson in wake of new Russian attacks

Ukrainian civilians flee re-taken Kherson in wake of new Russian attacks

Civilians are fleeing the recently re-captured Ukrainian city of Kherson amid a fresh barrage of deadly Russian attacks.

Russian forces fired 33 rockets at civilian targets in the 24 hours leading up to early Wednesday, Ukraine’s military said, as fighting intensified with Russia deploying more tanks and armoured vehicles on front lines.

There were scenes of joy in Kherson last month when Russian forces abandoned Kherson in one of Ukraine’s most significant gains in the 11-month war.

But fighting has entered a slow, grinding phase as bitter winter weather has set in and recent days have seen a fresh onslaught of shelling.

At least seven people were reportedly killed and 58 wounded amid Russian airstrikes on the city centre on Christmas Eve, which were said to have hit nurseries, a school, a hospital, shops, a factory, houses, and apartment blocks.

An injured man stands on a street after Russian shelling to Kherson on Christmas Eve (AFP via Getty Images)
An injured man stands on a street after Russian shelling to Kherson on Christmas Eve (AFP via Getty Images)

Kyiv and relief agencies are now evacuating remaining civilians from the city, with the Ukrainian Red Cross saying on Twitter: “It is dangerous to stay in the city, because Kherson is shelled several times a day.”

Photos taken on Christmas morning appeared to show lines of cars at a checkpoint, leaving Kherson.

A mother named Elena spoke to the BBC as she and her three daughters evacuated Kherson by train, joining hundreds of others who have fled since Christmas Day.

“Before, they [Russian forces] shelled us seven to 10 times a day, now it’s 70-80 times, all day long,” she told the BBC. “It’s too scary. I love Ukraine and my dear city. But we have to go.”

Another woman who was leaving the city by car told the BBC: “We can’t take it anymore. The shelling is so intense. We stayed this whole time and thought it would pass and that we would be lucky. But a strike hit the house next to ours, and my father’s home was also shelled.”

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in its morning report on Wednesday that Russia forces were attacking populated areas on the right bank of the Dnipro River near Kherson with mortars and artillery.

Russia denies targeting civilians. Reuters news agency was unable to immediately verify the reports.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said: “There has been very little change in terms of the front line but pressure from the enemy has intensified, both in terms of the numbers of men and the type and quantity of equipment.”

Zhdanov said that fighting had intensified with Russia deploying armoured vehicles and tanks.

A rescuer extinguishes a fire in a burning shop in Kherson on Christmas Eve (AFP via Getty Images)
A rescuer extinguishes a fire in a burning shop in Kherson on Christmas Eve (AFP via Getty Images)

The heaviest fighting has been around the eastern city of Bakhmut, a bombed-out ghost town, which Russia has been trying for months to storm at huge cost in lives, and further north in the cities of Svatove and Kreminna, where Ukraine is trying to break Russian defensive lines.

In Bakhmut, home to 70,000 people before the war and now in ruins, Reuters reporters saw fires burning in a large residential building. Debris littered the streets and the windows of most buildings were blown out.

“Our building is destroyed,” said Oleksandr, 85, adding he was the only remaining resident there. “There was a shop in our building, now it’s not there anymore.”

A man helps an injured civilian after Russian shelling to Kherson on Christmas Eve (AFP via Getty Images)
A man helps an injured civilian after Russian shelling to Kherson on Christmas Eve (AFP via Getty Images)

Nearby, 73-year-old Pilaheia said she had long got used to the “constant explosions”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, calling it a “special military operation” to “denazify” his neighbour, which he said was a threat to Russia.

Russia set out to subdue Ukraine within days, but its forces were defeated on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, in the spring and forced to withdraw from other areas in the autumn.

Putin responded by summoning hundreds of thousands of reservists for the first time since World War Two.